A life in the day of... Jean-François Cazenave, president and co-founder of Télécoms Sans Frontières

29 October 2013

As president and co-founder of Télécoms Sans Frontières (TSF), Jean-François Cazenave often does not know which country he will be in from one day to the next.

TSF is a non-government organisation which supplies crucial telecommunications support to areas hit by natural disasters and conflicts. Cazenave has an impressive background in humanitarian aid, which he explains is due to his creative shortcomings.

"I would have liked to have been able to write, and I would have liked to have been able to sing, but I can do neither of those things," he jokes. "So I express my sensitivity through the work I do for other people."

TSF was founded in 1998 after Cazenave had completed humanitarian missions in Croatia and Bosnia. Refugees would hand him scribbled phone numbers to contact their families with news.

"From this we realised there was a need for communication for these refugees and that is why we created TSF," he says.

TSF has two international bases – in Managua, Nicaragua, and Bangkok, Thailand – and is headquartered in Pau, France. The international bases mean that all time zones are covered.

"Any time there's an earthquake, a flood or a hurricane forecast... we receive email and mobile phone alerts," Cazenave says.

Cazenave's daily routine is often fast-paced. He explains the process that ensures aid is deployed as early as possible.

Haiti's catastrophic earthquake in 2010, for example, happened at 5pm on January 12 2010. Cazenave says that by 9am the next day, TSF equipment had been installed at three sites across the disaster zone.

The organisation can arrive at any disaster zone within 24 hours, and in this instance, Haiti's prime minister was able to use TSF equipment to contact foreign governments.

"If we had more funds from institutional partners, we could look at expansion," Cazenave says. "It would allow us to stay on a mission for a bit longer... but that's not to say things don't work well as they are."

TSF has six main partners – Inmarsat, the Vodafone foundation, AT&T, Eutelsat, PCCW Global and Astrium – without which it would not survive, Cazenave says.

The deployment of emergency telecoms services has been rapidly adopted worldwide and Cazenave explains that telecoms aid can even take priority over medicine or food.

"Once you've got the telecoms infrastructure set up within a given village that's been affected by a natural disaster, all other actions can then be co-ordinated in a much more efficient manner," he says.

Thanks to the travel in Cazenave's role, when he does get some free time, he likes to stay put – but even that can be difficult.

"I've got five grandchildren that live in various countries abroad, so even if I don't want to travel I'm obliged to," he adds.

Topics: Telecoms Sans Frontieres, TSF, Jean-Francois Cazenave, Croatia, Bosnia, refugees, Haiti, Inmarsat, Vodafone Foundation